It turns out that the Target in-store display I knocked a few days ago is part of a larger advertising campaign based on The Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye.” Target’s full sentiment, best shown in the ad above, is ‘say hello to a goodbuy,’ (or good buys; the ads are all over YouTube). (This campaign, incidentally, has been the subject of love/hate back-and-forth comment threads on ad blogs all over the Internet; the commentary includes allegations that Target’s competitor Shopko was the first to use the “say hello to a goodbuy” slogan.)

It’s nice to know there’s a logic to the madness, even if that logic is a Beatles song with very different intentions and the logic, while muddled, is kind of clever. You say “good buy” (i.e. you, Target, are alerting me that there is a low-priced but quality item for sale) and I say “hello” (i.e. I, the consumer, am channeling the divas of the 1990s and am excited to find this item on sale). Still, the cultural cachet of the Beatles is so strong that even though Target’s ads explicitly spell out ‘goodbuy,’ it took me a few viewings before the ads’ interpretation of the lyrics took hold.

The campaign has two direct impacts: First, it establishes Target as a cheerfully middle-range store (providing quality, but at a good price, but still in a hip environment); second, it allows the in-store “goodbuys” to have a bit of a cachet, even if they are $0.49 folders. 

The ads are also interesting in that several of these ads are not explicitly advertising Target: They are advertising the brands that Target sells. By anchoring to well-known brands (M&Ms, GE, Purina) in the context of an ad campaign, Target manages to establish a supra-identity around these brands: I could, after all, buy GE lightbulbs or Purina Fancy Feast at my local grocery store but my local grocery isn’t nearly as hip as Target

And, as best I can figure, that’s the point of this campaign, which I still find curious. But beyond that—what? There is a risk inherent in hitching your wagon to someone else’s star, especially if the goods you offer for sale are fungible or, at the very least, obtainable somewhere else, as they are in this case. (Does Target risk becoming an invisible brand? More on invisible brands in an upcoming post.)

So does the existence of this ad campaign abrogate concerns about Pithy Helvetica? A little bit. If anything, it emphasizes the importance of maintaining strong in-store ties to campaigns published out in the real world—to circulars, print ads, television and radio commercials, and your website (Target makes no mention of the “goodbuy” campaign on their front page). Target could have played their rendition of “Hello, Goodbye” over their stores’ public address systems or screened their commercials on in-store displays—and maybe they did, and maybe I missed it. Ultimately, maybe this isn’t the toppling of Pithy Helvetica, but it does raise an important point about the severability of linear ad campaigns: Consumers should be able to understand them even if they miss a step in the process. Otherwise, we’re going to get further stuck in the muddle that is this material world.